Nephi's preservation of the conditional "first blessing" that Lehi bestowed upon his elder sons (Laman, Lemuel, and Sam) and the sons of Ishmael, contains a dramatic wordplay on the name Ishmael in 2 Nephi 1:28–29. The name Ishmael -- "May El hear [him]," "May El hearken," or "El Has Hearkened" -- derives from the Semitic (and later Hebrew) verb šama? (to "hear," "hearken," or "obey"). Lehi's rhetorical wordplay juxtaposes the name Ishmael with a clustering of the verbs "obey" and "hearken," both usually represented in Hebrew by the verb šama?. Lehi's blessing is predicated on his sons' and the sons of Ishmael's "hearkening" to Nephi ("if ye will hearken"). Conversely, failure to "hearken" ("but if ye will not hearken") would precipitate withdrawal of the "first blessing." Accordingly, when Nephi was forced to flee from Laman, Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, Lehi's "first blessing" was activated for Nephi and all those who "hearkened" to his spiritual leadership, including members of Ishmael's family (2 Nephi 5:6), while it was withdrawn from Laman, Lemuel, the sons of Ishmael, and those who sympathized with them, "inasmuch as they [would] not hearken" unto Nephi (2 Nephi 5:20). Centuries later, when Ammon and his brothers convert many Lamanites to the truth, Mormon revisits Lehi's conditional blessing and the issue of "hearkening" in terms of Ishmael and the receptivity of the Ishmaelites. Many Ishmaelite-Lamanites "hear" or "hearken" to Ammon et al., activating Lehi's "first blessing," while many others -- including the ex-Nephite Amalekites/Amlicites -- do not, thus activating (or reactivating) Lehi's curse.
About the Author
Matthew L. Bowen was raised in Orem, Utah, and graduated from Brigham Young University. He holds a PhD in Biblical Studies from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and is currently an Assistant Professor in Religious Education at Brigham Young University-Hawaii. He and his wife (the former Suzanne Blattberg) are the parents of three children: Zachariah, Nathan, and Adele.